Monthly Archives: August 2012

Talking to Yourself Is A Sign Of Sanity, Not Insanity: Reducing Anxiety Through Power Walking

Much of my life I suffered from anxiety on a regular basis. Obviously this is not a fun (or useful) state in which to be. The good news is that I found some techniques that really helped me manage my anxiety, and they are still helpful when I do have one of those moments. One of my favorites is what I call power walking.

Have you noticed that when you feel anxious, you physically feel different? It’s not just a feeling in the sense of an emotion, but a feeling in your body. This is true of all emotions, and I would imagine that’s why they are also called feelings. For me, when I feel anxious it’s this fluttery feeling in my chest, and I feel very restless as if I couldn’t sit still if you paid me.

Since our bodies carry our emotions, it is sometimes useful to use our bodies to process those emotions. That’s part of what power walking is about. Obviously walking is using our bodies, so the first part of power walking is to start walking!

The second piece is to process your thoughts as you are walking by talking out loud. This exercise can move you through truly processing your thoughts, when sometimes just thinking your thoughts can’t.  When we speak out loud, we access a different part of our brain than when we’re just thinking, which is why this works.

This difference between thinking thoughts and speaking them is also part of why talk therapy is effective. Many times clients figure out the answers they’re looking for in the course of describing the problem to the therapist! Ooops – maybe I shouldn’t share that or I’ll be out of a job! 🙂

So, here’s how you use this very simple technique for reducing anxiety: you go outside (ideally) and start walking briskly and talking out loud. It’s that easy. If you’re worried that people will overhear you and wonder why you’re talking to yourself, use your cell phone or bluetooth as a prop. These days no one thinks anything about people talking to themselves when they see their bluetooth earpiece in place!

Your talk is a stream of consciousness. Just start with whatever thought is foremost in your mind, and see where it leads you. If it helps, you can imagine you’re talking to someone else. Describe to them what is going on for you.

You will be amazed to find that solutions to problems will come to you as you’re talking to yourself. You might find yourself considering a new perspective on something that is upsetting you. Or maybe you’ll talk yourself right into realizing that whatever you’re stressing about is really not that big of a deal.

For several years I have been taking a daily walk in the morning, and whether or not I’m feeling anxious, I talk out loud to myself. If there’s something in particular on my mind, I’ll start talking about that situation.  If I don’t have anything in particular, I’ll just start talking and see what comes out of my mouth.

In addition to reducing my anxiety this way, I have had numerous insights and inspirations while taking power walks. New ideas come to me, seemingly out of the blue. My belief is that physical activity coupled with speaking out loud gives access to a part of ourselves that isn’t always available to us when we just sit and think. I view it as an active meditation.

On the surface it may sound a little crazy to walk and talk out loud to yourself, but it is one of the things that has kept me from feeling crazy when I am anxious. Give it a try and see. I have no doubt you will be pleasantly surprised.

Say What You Need to Say: 3 Benefits of Speaking Your Truth

Walking like a one man army,
Fighting shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead,
If you could only...

Say what you need to say

~John Mayer, "Say What You Need to Say"

I recently heard this John Mayer song, and it was so wonderful to understand – once again – that I am not the only person who has struggled with saying what I need to say. I spent most of my life constantly evaluating the response I might get if I said what I really wanted to say. Much of the time, fear of the other person’s possible reaction kept me silent.

Just this morning I was fighting this demon (fear of how I will be perceived by the other person) once again. I have been having my website redesigned and rebuilt. It has been a slow process. I am concerned – not for the first time in the process, and for valid reasons – that the delivery date will not be met.

When I raised this concern on a call with the project manager, he gave me platitudes and tried to spin the fact that the design phase was behind schedule. He also seemed frustrated with my ongoing nervousness about the delivery date, and asked me to “let them manage the internal process.”

In the moment, I reacted to him telling me that I was overstepping my bounds by retreating. But upon reflection I knew that I had a valid concern, and that it had not been adequately addressed.

I decided I would email the company founder about my concern, and ask for assurance that the final delivery date would be met. As I contemplated this email, I became more and more anxious. I tried to understand what I was afraid of,  and realized that I did not want to be perceived as demanding, and I was afraid that is what the founder would think of me.

Once I became clear on my fear, it was easy enough for me to realize that whether the founder (or the project manager) thinks I am too demanding or high maintenance doesn’t really matter to me.

Yes, I would prefer they think of me as cooperative and likeable, but they are there to do a job for me, and are being paid well to do so. If they decide I’m being too demanding when I hold them accountable for the contracted work, then that says more about them than it does about me.

Throughout my life I have let my fear of not being liked (which translated to being a “bad person” in my mind) keep me from saying what is true. Like the quote above, “Living with shadows in your head,” I would spend hours in my head running scenarios rather than just address the issue head-on.

Over the past year I have become clear that confronting a problem when it first arises is much better for me in the long run for the following reasons:

  1. Once the words are spoken it is over and done with. I don’t spend days, weeks, or months thinking about the situation that is bothering me. Living through the moments of fear prior to the confrontation is preferable to all the time spent not dealing with the issue.
  2. I can deal with the reality of the other person’s reaction.Much of the mental spinning that prevented me from actually saying what I needed to say, revolved around imagining how the other person would react. Of course I always imagined the worst. Now, once I say my piece, I don’t have to guess about the other person’s reaction. I am now dealing with reality rather than my imagination.
    1. Side benefit: I get evidence that people don’t always react negatively when I raise an issue. I can use this evidence in the future when I fall back into the trap of imagining a negative reaction.
  3. When I address an issue early on, I tend to be less emotional about it, which leads to communicating in a better way. When I let my resentment or worries about a particular situation fester, I tend to blow things way out of proportion. Basically, I would hold things in until I couldn’t stand it anymore, then I would explode. This obviously is not the best way to end up with a win-win solution to a conflict.

The Next Step is All You Need

Several weeks ago when I was feeling in a fog and not knowing what direction to go, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. What he told me has stuck with me since: I don’t need to know any more than what the next step is.

Frequently in the fog, we can see a few feet ahead, but not much further. When you’re driving a car and going fast, being able to only see a few feet ahead is dangerous. But if you’re on foot, being able to see a few feet ahead shows you where you will be putting your foot in your next step. It’s enough to be able to know whether or not taking the next step will be safe.

The same is true metaphorically. When I’m feeling in a fog, and can’t see my ultimate destination, I don’t want to be racing ahead as if I’m in a car. I want to move slowly and deliberately, as if I were on foot in a fog. All I really need to know is where to place my foot for that next step.

What triggered the fog for me most recently was the idea that I am meant to move away from Seattle. In fact, what came to me is that I am meant to move to Edinburgh, Scotland.

When I began contemplating this, I immediately became very anxious and worried. How would my mother and my son react to me moving to another country? Should I sell my house or rent it out? What about my car? And my cats – could I take them with me?

And on and on and on. Lots of things to worry about.

When my friend put out this idea of not needing to know more than the next step, I immediately relaxed. I knew that the next step was to visit Edinburgh for a prolonged period of time to see if I really did want to move there.

So I decided on a timeframe when I could spend a month in Edinburgh, and booked a flight and a room. That was my next step. Nothing else needed to be done in the meantime, because until I made the visit I didn’t even know for sure that Edinburgh would be my ultimate destination. There was no point in worrying about the logistics of moving there yet.

Over the next week after I booked my trip I still had thoughts popping up about the logistics of moving. But each time one of these thoughts came into my head – and I noticed when this happened because I would begin to feel anxious – I told myself that I didn’t need to know that yet.

I can’t tell you what a relief this was! I didn’t have to know that yet! I could choose to think about that sometime in the future when it was more appropriate.

What about you? Is there a situation in your life right now where you’re not really sure of the ultimate destination? Are you worrying about the fact that you don’t know where you’re going – or worrying about how to get to the destination that is not even clear to you yet?

If this is true for you, try this:

  1. Ask yourself where you’re trying to go.
  2. If you know your destination, ask yourself what is the next step that will lead you in that direction.
  3. If you aren’t clear on your destination (for example, wondering whether you should stay in your current career, or go back to school for a different career), ask yourself what is the next step that will help to bring clarity on your destination.
  4. Quit worry, ruminating, mulling over. You know what your next step is. You don’t need to know more yet.
  5. Feel the relief of not having to know all the answers right now!

Cleaning Out the Basement – Literally and Figuratively

For years I’ve been talking about cleaning out the basement of my house. I’ve been aware that there is a bunch of junk down there that I don’t want or need, and as time passes it gets messier and messier.

About seven years ago I was thinking of doing some remodeling to my house, but nothing was working out. I had a woman come and do feng shui to help me figure out if I was supposed to do the remodel. One thing I learned that has stuck with me is that even though all my mess was in the unfinished basement where I rarely went, it wasn’t really out of sight, out of mind.

What this woman told me was that even though the mess and chaos was not visible, it was in the foundation layer of my house – the basement – which meant it was also in my own foundation.

Cleaning out the basement has felt extremely overwhelming, which is why I’ve never done it until recently. I’ve lived in my house for nearly twelve years, and there were things that went directly in the basement when I moved in, never to be seen again. Add to that twelve years of accumulated stuff and the basement was full and very disorganized.

Even though I didn’t directly address the mess in the basement, it was always in the back of my mind, nagging at me. Five years ago I was considering selling my house. One of the things that really appealed to me about selling the house was that then I would have to clean out the basement. I could move somewhere pristine and start from a better place than where I was currently.

Well, I finally got around to cleaning out the basement over the past several weeks. I found I can only tolerate a few hours at a time – so many decisions to make about so much stuff – so it has taken me four sessions to have the purge mostly completed. The only thing left now is a dresser whose drawers are full of clothes that are at least twelve years old, and probably haven’t fit me for even longer.

Through this process of literally cleaning out my basement, I have discovered the truth in the feng shui woman’s words. Cleaning out my basement is about letting go of the past so I can make room for the future. It’s about letting go of my attachment to things, knowing that the things don’t really mean anything. It’s about letting go of the fear that I might need something I’m purging in the future, and knowing that if I do need it, I will always be able to find what I need without holding onto it now.

You can see that there is a correlation between cleaning out my physical, material stuff, and cleaning out emotional stuff. It’s no coincidence that the week I began the basement project, is also the week that I had an inspiration that I was meant to leave Seattle. Both of these require letting go of the past in order to move forward.

And it’s no surprise that having this epiphany about moving one day before I began my basement cleanout sent me into a tailspin the day after the basement project began. I wrote about that experience in Stuck in the Fog? Use Your Foghorn!

Over the past several weeks I have been challenged with letting go of the past and having faith that I am moving in the right direction, even though my destination is not always visible through the fog.  I have found the combination of physically cleaning up my living space at the same time as figuratively cleaning up my internal space to be a great way to move forward by leaps and bounds.

As I’ve continued to clean out my basement, I’ve felt lighter. I’ve come to view all the stuff I had down there as an anchor that kept me stuck in place. The more I have purged the material stuff, the more I have wanted to purge. It’s a heady feeling to not need all that stuff to be okay, and to realize that the stuff actually keeps me from being where I want and need to be in life.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re feeling stuck in your life:

1.      What physical or material situations are keeping me stuck in the past?

2.      How is holding on to this material stuff related to holding onto emotional stuff?

3.      If I were to let go of some of this stuff, how would I feel?

4.      What are the fears that prevent me from getting rid of stuff that no longer serves me?